Saturday, November 30, 2013

Celebrate This Week! NCTE Version

Discover. Play. Build.

Thank you, Ruth Ayres for giving us a reason to celebrate each week! For the link up, visit Ruth Ayres Writes.

There was so much to celebrate at #ncte13. As always, this was the professional highlight of my year.  Below are a few highlights from this year's convention.

My term on the Executive Committee ended and that's a little sad, but I am so thankful to have worked with such an amazing group of people.  It was an incredible experience--I learned a lot and made some great friends.  The mission of NCTE is one that is important to me and I loved my years on the EC.  I am in awe of the leaders of NCTE and feel honored to have worked with them.

The Elementary Section Get-Together Kick-Off was great. It is always so fun to see everyone and to kick off the convention together.  Jarrett Krosoczka was incredible as always.  The room was packed and within minutes I noticed my friends tweeting away!

First Wave was an amazing Opening Session on Friday morning. If you did not see the group, I don't know how to describe it.  It was the energy and the message we needed.  Ernest Morrell (@ernestmorrell) was this year's convention chair and he put together an amazing weekend, with First Wave being a wonderful surprise for me, as I'd not heard of them before this.

I met Peter Brown. I actually got to have lunch with Peter Brown at the Books for Children Luncheon. Not that I'm trying to make my friend, Deb Frazier jealous or anything.  (Even though this picture of me is hideous, it was worth sending out to Deb:-)  Meeting Peter Brown was on my list of important things to do at convention, as I am a huge fan. If you have never attended the Books for Children's Lunch, it is a highlight of the conference for me. A great place for author fans as there is an author at each table and you get to sit with one the whole time!  A real NCTE convention perk for author stalkers:-)

Speaking of the Books for Children Luncheon, Ann Marie Corgill and I were assigned to check in the authors. Welcoming and meeting all of the authors we love was quite fun.  So many amazing authors in one room!

Friday night, I attended the Choice Literacy dinner. I am reminded every time I am with Brenda Power and the Choice Literacy group how lucky I am to be part of this community. Another hideous picture but one that really summarizes the weekend of friends, learning and laughter.

I went to some great sessions that really helped me learn lots.  I started Friday off at Kidwatching in the Digital Age which was incredible. I tend to avoid roundtables but this session changed my mind. I started at a table with Katie Keier and learned so much in 10 minutes. Every 10 minute rotation gave me more to think about!  So many smart presenters, sharing so much about learning from their students. So much energy in one packed room!

I was thrilled to get a seat in the Close Reading session by Chris Lehman, Kate Roberts and Maggie Beattie Roberts.  They are so smart about all that they say about children and reading.  It was definitely a highlight and I am looking forward to rereading Falling in Love with Close Reading now.

I loved getting a chance to go to an Ignite session with some amazing speakers. Like the roundtable, I loved the energy and all of the thinking I did.  And how can I not celebrate Penny Kittle, whose Ignite reminded us of the power of classroom libraries. She is so passionate about this that she has started The Book Love Foundation.  Such important work.

There is nothing like traveling with friends. I am reminded of that over and over again. Whether we are in a car for hours driving to #nerdcamp or in the airport for hours waiting for a plane, some of my best pd happens traveling with friends.

More than anything, NCTE is so much about learning from and thinking with each other. I happened to luck out and be sitting next to Patrick Allen and Sara Kajder met.  I love when 2 of who have learned from each other meet in person.

NCTE, A True Celebration!

Friday, November 29, 2013

#Nerdlution: When Mr. Sharp Creates a Hashtag, You Know He Means Business

It happened so quickly. I committed so writing for 30 minutes each day and walking/running 20 minutes each day for 50 days....Here's how it happened.

After working through our book draft at #ncte13 and trying to figure out how to move forward, Bill and I left convention with a commitment to write for 30 minutes a day. I write that much now, but I am loose about what I write and  I needed to commit to 30 minutes a day on working on the book.  It seems if I don't write every day and I try to write on the weekends, I spend half of my weekend time trying to regain my thinking from the week before.  Writing every day seems like something worth trying.

Then I read Colby's post about his commitment to write every day.  Then as I was browsing blogs, I read about someone's running streak.  I decided a streak sounded like a good idea.  I was hesitant to think about actually committing to it because I did not do so well on my 2013 goals.

Streaks seem to work to change habits.  People write about lifestyle changes because of Run Streaks, Runner's World sponsors several streaks throughout the year. Sherry blogged about her experience about her Run Streak at Reading Teachers Running.

But streaks work for more than just running. I've seen that over and over again with Kate Messner's Teachers Write, Ruth Ayres' Slice of Life Challenge and Nanowrimo.

I have been looking for a way to get back to a more balanced life as my 2013 goals did not go so well.  My concussion caused me to stop too many things that I had committed to. But, I figured Katherine would be up for a streak, as she was one of my original running partners,  so I sent some tweets.

Then, Chris Lehman jumped in with his push-up resolution turned streak.

And then Bill realized that I had publicly committed the writing part for him too:-)

And then.....Colby created a hashtag!

And, when Mr. Sharp creates a hashtag, you know he means business....

Join us!
Pick a #nerdlution and check in each day on Twitter!
50 Days!

December 2-January 20 #nerdlution

Poetry Friday -- Giving Thanks

Flickr Creative Commons Photo by prettywar-stl

In Praise of My Bed
by Meredith Holmes

At last I can be with you!
The grinding hours
since I left your side!
The labor of being fully human,
working my opposable thumb,
talking, and walking upright.

(read the whole poem here, and sigh at the end)

Whew! Made it to the intermediate finish line known as Thanksgiving Break! First trimester report cards done and sent, we have at least a shell of a plan for second trimester instruction, and while the multiple final and pre-assessments given over the past two weeks have not been graded, at least there is a bit of breathing room to do so. 

I'm giving thanks for breathing room: time for sleeping in and napping, time for writing and reading, time for slowing down to a more reasonable pace.

Carol has the Poetry Friday roundup this week at Carol's Corner.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Reflecting on NCTE 2013

I can't find the one perfect metaphor to describe what it's like to attend NCTE's annual convention.

There's the obvious -- NCTE is a family reunion. Not your biological family, your professional family: your peeps, your tweeps, your colleagues; your blog followers and blog idols; the authors whose books you've read and read aloud and used to grow readers and used to grow yourself as a teacher. Like a family reunion, NCTE is full of joyful squeals, warm hugs and handshakes, food and drink, and conversation long into the night.

But NCTE is more than just a family reunion.

NCTE is the loom where we weave the tapestry of our professional life. The people we meet there and the people we reconnect with there are certainly threads that make up part of who we are as teachers, but so are the ideas that we explore in our sessions (both giving and receiving). Our committees and groups and affiliations are also threads in our cloth. For the week we are at NCTE, we weave like crazy -- sometimes outlining a basic pattern we'll fill in once we return to our lives and our work, sometimes adding detail to an existing pattern.

But NCTE is more than just a loom.

I imagine all of the teachers who attend NCTE as glass jars. Some are fancy, others are plain and functional. All are filled with marbles that represent who they are and all they do in their lives. Every jar is filled to the top with marbles: family, teaching, writing, reading, friends, hobbies. Every life is filled to the top, and yet here they all are, at NCTE. NCTE is like a fine sand that can fill the spaces between the marbles. The thinking, the learning, the connections to teachers and authors -- all of that filters in and surrounds the rest of who we are. Instead of empty spaces between our marbles, there are people and ideas and books we can lean on throughout the year.

But NCTE is more than fine sand.

My professional life is one room in the house of Me. Actually, my professional life wants to be the whole house, but for right now, I'm just giving it one room. It's a big room, spacious enough to fit all of the people who help me to be a better teacher. The ceiling is high, to accommodate lofty ideas and ideals. The walls are lined with books that grow me and that grow my students. There's a large wooden table in this room (probably as filled with stacks of papers and books as the table before me right now), and there's a lamp in this room, shedding light on it all.

NCTE is the lamp in the room of my professional life.

Thursday, November 21, 2013


Flickr Creative Commons Photo by Minneapolis Moose


I was so very ready 
to leave it all behind.

A red-rinded pomegranate waits 
on the kitchen counter:

insurance that I will

©Mary Lee Hahn, 2013

Let's welcome Katya back to the Poetry Friday fold! In spite of her crazy fall, she's hosting the Poetry Friday roundup this week at Write. Sketch. Repeat.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Celebrate This Week!

Discover. Play. Build.

A few quick celebrations from the week! So fun that this is already the 5th week of this great tradition--one I already look forward to each Saturday! I try to spend lots of time reading others' celebrations linked at Ruth Ayres Writes as it reminds me there are so many reasons to celebrate!

We got lots of comments to last week's Celebrate This Week post and I used to choose the winner of the Trashy Crafter's Dr. Seuss necklace. And the winner is.....#5! Congratulations Leigh Anne!

For some reason, I haven't found much time to bake this year.  But I baked a basic muffin/cupcake recipe that's been in our family for years.  My grandfather used to like them every day and so they were always around.  It is one of those quick recipes that is easy to make and that everyone in the family seems to love. I have one cupcake pan that I've used for these for years and I only use it for these (they don't work well for many other muffins and cupcakes.) As I was making them, I couldn't help but celebrate how lucky I am that I grew up with baking (grandmothers, mothers, aunts). Everyone has their own recipes and then there are a few that we all love and make.  Love this!

I discovered this great Ted Talk which I love as it makes learning something (anything) new seem doable!

I love Battle Bunny but just discovered this Book Trailer this week

I got lots accomplished this week.  The week leading up to NCTE is always busy with sub plans, report cards, getting presentation together, etc.  I feel like I am almost ready!

I did a podcast with Angela Maiers for Choice Literacy several weeks ago. It was published today in Choice Literacy's Big Fresh. It was nice to revisit the podcast as I have been thinking so much about all that Angela talked about.

I have been thinking lots about Genius Hour and plan to start it in a few weeks with my 3rd graders. I love that I sent out a question and got so many responses from people with links to help me think through the idea!  So exciting to see all that people are doing around this idea.  (I started a Pinterest Board on the topic to help collect thinking but haven't had time to add much yet.)

One of my students asked me for the Slice of Life logo for one of her Kidblogs posts! I love that kids are seeing so many of the things I share with them as  the invitations and possibilities for their own learning lives.

The kids did October's Solve It Your Way! in the classroom on Friday.  It was amazing. Their thinking was amazing, their collaboration was amazing, the growth since the first Solve It Your Way was so clear! It was joyful learning. It was AMAZING.  I couldn't capture everything that was happening but one group decided to videotape their experiment.  So much to celebrate in their video!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Poetry Friday -- Billy Collins' New Book

by Billy Collins
Random House, October 22, 2013
review copy is mine


The first line will not go away
though the middle ones will disappear,
and the third, like the first, is bound to get more play.

Examples of this type are written every day,
and whether uplifting or drear,
that first line will just not go away.

It seems some lines have the right of way.
It's their job to reappear,
for example, the third, designed to get more play.

Whether you squawk like an African Grey
or sing sweetly to the inner ear,
the line you wrote first will just not go away.

You may compose all night and day
under a bare lightbulb or a crystal chandelier,
but line number three must get more play.

How can a poet hope to go wildly astray
or sing out like a romantic gondolier
when the first line will not go away
and the third always has the final say?

©Billy Collins, 2013

What fun to have a new collection of poems from four earlier volumes that includes a nice serving of new poems, too! Here are some highlights of the new poems:

Besides this villanelle, there is a surprising sonnet and an Ode to a Desk Lamp.

Collins talks (sometimes back) to Li Po, Antonín Dvořák, people (and ducks) who suggest poem topics, Keats and Mother Nature.

The poems will take you to Nebraska, Central Park, Flying Point Beach, France, Rome, Florida and West Texas, among other destinations.

I think this book will be my birthday present to me, and on my birthday weekend, I plan to stay curled up under the covers for hours and hours, revisiting old favorites and savoring all of the new poems.

Jama has the Poetry Friday roundup this week at Jama's Alphabet Soup.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

We interrupt our regular programming for this brief PSA

Language Arts teachers and literacy coaches, are you a member of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE)? You're a professional...join your professional organization! Membership information is here--don't forget to add a journal to your membership!

Whether or not you're a member of NCTE, consider joining the Children's Literature Assembly of NCTE, a group whose goals are:
  • To provide a forum for exchange among teachers of children's literature who share keen interest in children and classrooms;
  • To promote children's literature as a field of learning, research, and classroom application;
  • To undertake and disseminate programs and projects of special interest to those interested in children's literature;
  • To work cooperatively with other organizations devoted to the promotion of literature in children's lives.
CLA is a great place to begin your involvement in NCTE. Serve on the committees that plan the events at the NCTE annual convention: the Master Class, the breakfast, the Monday workshop, and be eligible to serve on the Notable Children's Books in the Language Arts committee! Membership information is here (please note on your form that you learned about CLA right here at A Year of Reading!)

While we're on the topic of NCTE, we're not making any promises about posting during the week leading up to and including the Annual Convention -- Nov. 18-26. If the blog goes silent that week, you'll know it's because we're going to great sessions, attending committee meetings, catching up with old and new friends (maybe even YOU!), and taking in some history in Boston.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

CYBILS: Picture Book Biographies

I love being part of the CYBILS! It is always so wonderful to learn about and read so many books in a single category.  This year, I am part of the Elementary and Middle Grade Nonfiction Committee. I have loved discovering new books and am excited to share some on the blog.  Today, I want to share two new-to-me picture book biographies.

The thing I love about recent picture book biographies is that so many of them tell the stories of people whose impact has been lost or forgotten somehow. Or their impact has certainly not been written in a way that is accessible to children. These two are new picture book biographies that will give readers info as well as maybe spark some new interest connected with the difference each person made in the world.

When the Beat Was Born: DJ Kool Herc and the Creation of Hip Hop by Laban Carrick Hill is the story of DJ Kool Herc and how he became a DJ.  The story begins with his childhood and how his love of music impacted all that he did.  DJ Kool Herc was responsible for extending breaks so listeners had more time to dance  (break-dancers).  His DJ-ing was quite the party and made people everywhere happy.  The author's note and timeline in the back add more interesting info to the story and the author's journey toward writing this story.

There are so many great books about the ways in which women in history changed the ideas around what was expected of them. Flying Solo: How Ruth Elder Soared into America's Heart by Julie Cummins is one of those books.  This is the story of Ruth Elder, a woman who was determined to become the "female Lindbergh" and to fly across the Atlantic.  She spent much of her life showing that women could be pilots and we learn about things like the 1929 all women's cross-country air race in which Ruth participated.  I love these stories that show determined people showing what is possible and changing perceptions throughout history. 

Monday, November 11, 2013

Celebrate Writers! Blog Tour

It's Here!!

Celebrating Writers: From Possibilities Through Publication by Ruth Ayers with Christi Overman 

Ruth's writing (on her blog and in her books) have been a huge inspiration to me over the last few years.  It is a hard time to stay grounded in teaching--to continue to keep our classrooms joyful places for children.  It is easy to lose energy and to fall back on practices that don't match what we know about children or about learning. But Ruth's work always gives me the confidence and energy I need to stick with what I know is right. She understands children and writing and teachers and she celebrates every piece of the learning process, especially the messy ones! I've come to count on Ruth's blog, Ruth Ayres Writes for a daily does of sanity, groundedness, and celebration.

A while back, I was lucky enough to interview Ruth Ayres for a Choice Literacy podcast. The topic was on Celebrating Writers and her insights were so powerful for me. 

Last month, we were lucky enough to hear Ruth Ayres speak all day at our annual Literacy Connection event.  She spoke on the topic of Celebrating Writers and it was just the energy boost I needed!

Since then (and before), I have been anxiously awaiting this new book, Celebrating Writers:  From Possibilities Through Publication. I was thrilled when Stenhouse sent me an advanced copy of the book and invited A Year of Reading to be part of this book celebration blog tour!  The new book is already an important one for me as Ruth and Christi are brilliant at weaving celebration into all that they do with young learners.

You can follow the Celebrating Writers! Blog Tour all week:

Nov. 11: A Year of Reading
Be sure to stop by each blog and leave a comment or ask a question for a chance to win a free book.

To kick off the blog tour, A Year of Reading interviewed Ruth about her newest book!

What is the biggest thing you want people to come away from when reading your new book?

I’d like them to see the beauty in the mess of student writing. I get so much energy from being around young writers because they are passionate and interested in their writing. Too often, in the name of standards and conventions and teaching we squelch their energy. I hope this book helps us celebrate the imperfections of young writers and gives us more energy for teaching writers and students more energy to be writers.

 What one change can teachers make that will move toward more purposeful celebrations?

Look for the thing a student is almost doing as a writer and acknowledge it. For example, you might say to a first grade writer, “I see you know periods go at the end of something. Instead of putting one at the end of every line, let’s put them at the end of sentences.” Then teach into the error from this stance of celebration.

 You take the theme of celebrating into all areas of your life. Did that life stance begin from writing celebrations or did the way you live your life help you think differently about writing celebrations?

Yes. Can I answer with yes? It’s both. At first I thought writing celebrations were fluff. Then as I began being a writer myself, I realized celebration is fuel to keep me going. The more I started thinking about it in terms of teaching writers, the more I realized it could be applied in all areas of my life. At the time of writing this book, we were adjusting to life with our daughters who we adopted as older children in 2008. Then in January 2013 we adopted our son who was 7 at the time. In the midst of writing about celebrating writers, I was experiencing how celebration could fuel me in other hard parts of life besides writing.

 Tell us about a few of your favorite writing celebrations in schools you work in.

My very favorite celebration is the moment in a conference when a student has more energy for writing because he has talked with me than before we talked.

As far as formal celebrations, I’m a sucker for poetry jams. I love to dress like a beatnik, sip smoothies, and weave words with young poets.

You are a strong advocate for teachers finding time to do their own writing. How does your work with celebrations fit into adult writing outside of the classroom?

Thank you. I do hope teachers find time to put some words on the page. I think when teachers are writers themselves they realize the importance of genuine celebration. It doesn’t need to be grandiose and it doesn’t have to include forced feedback, rather celebration is the natural outcome of being in a writing community.  When we are writers working alongside other writers, we understand how celebration is fuel and we are positioned to make it an integral part of our writing workshops.

Tell us about a few of your favorite personal writing celebrations.

I finished a manuscript of a young adult fiction story a few years ago. I doubt it will ever see book form on shelves but just the fact that I finished is big to me.

Whenever someone tells me they started writing or started a blog or started a notebook because of me, that’s the ultimate writing celebration.

Recently I wrote a blog post (­) that triggered a lot of response. In addition to comments, people sent me direct messages on Twitter and Facebook, emails, texts messages, and even a letter in the mail, telling me their stories that my post made them remember. I was touched by the way my words impacted others.

These are the celebrations that fuel me.

 RuthAyresWrites has just started a Saturday tradition inviting people to share weekly celebrations.  You’ve had a huge response almost immediately.  Why do you think so many people jumped in right away?

I’ve been asking myself the same thing! I think we are overwhelmed by our daily grind. When we take the time to look for celebrations, we are able to see growth and purpose in our work. I’m inspired each Saturday by all of the powerful teaching and learning happening across the globe. Unless we document it, it is too easy to overlook.

What’s next for you as a writer?

I just started a new writing project on different topics than I’ve written before – faith and adoption. Interestingly enough, I think Celebrating Writers was much of the collection phase in my writing process for this new project. The message of this next book is: Life is for celebration not survival. I’m planning to weave stories of our adoptions with truths of life about living celebration.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Another Veteran's Day Coincidence

Salt: A Story of Friendship in a Time of War
by Helen Frost
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, July 23, 2013
review copy provided by the publisher

On Veterans' Day in 2009, quite coincidentally, I read two books about war.

Today, on the eve of Veterans' Day 2013, the book that rose to the top of my TBR pile was, coincidentally, a book about war, and another book by Helen Frost.

SALT is set in 1812, at a small fort in the Indiana Territory -- Fort Wayne. The richness of nature in this setting is vital to the story. The small poems about salt that are sprinkled through the story remind the reader of the long, slow processes of nature and the interconnectedness of the earth and all life on the earth. In nature, salt preserves, salt enriches. Salt in the hands of humans becomes a commodity of power.

James, the American son of the trader at the fort, is friends with Anikwa, a member of the Miami tribe that has lived in the area for centuries. It is stories such as this -- of humanity and the friendships that bridge differences of culture and beliefs -- that give me hope for a species whose history tends to be measured by its wars.

On the other hand, Isaac, son of another American settler at the fort, embodies the worst of humanity. He is suspicious, antagonistic, prone to violence, and kills recklessly and without regret. His character is like salt in a wound.

When the troops arrive at the besieged fort, they bring the horrors of war that persist to this day -- the environment is destroyed, the native people are displaced, and trust between cultures is shattered.

This book doesn't explain the entire history of the War of 1812, but it brings to vivid life one small slice of it. Historical fiction is one way that history comes to life.

But we shouldn't forget that history is alive. History is alive in the memories of the people around us. Tomorrow, on Veterans' Day, we will share the stories of the people in our lives who have served (or are serving) our country in the Armed Forces and we will weave a new story of humanity, high ideals, freedom, and courage.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Celebrate This Week!

Discover. Play. Build.

Am loving this excuse every Saturday to look back on my week and think about all of the celebrations! Thank you, Ruth Ayres, for this great new tradition!  Don't forget to visit Ruth Ayres Writes for all of this week's Celebrations!

-Our classroom was great fun this week.  I slowed down a little bit and it made a difference for all of us.  This week, I shared this Saturday blog event with my kids and they loved it. They quickly thought of many classroom celebrations from the week and we are participating on our class blog for the first time!

-Recess duty is not my favorite thing about being a teacher. This week, I heard a child yell, "I want my hat back!" I looked over and he was chasing a friend who had taken his red hat.  Funny how my favorite book shows up everywhere in my life.

-I somehow missed that James Preller had a 3rd book in his Scary Tales series come out in September. One of my students and I discovered it this week! (Good Night, Zombie (Scary Tales) )The series is quite popular with my 3rd graders right now!

-This isn't a new Ted Talk, but it is new to me and I am so happy I found it. A great message.

-All of my friends know that loving nature is not something I do. BUT...there are about 2 weeks each fall that the leaves in our neighborhood are breathtaking. I can't help but notice them and be in awe of them. This is one of those weeks!

-Our puppy is still adorable!

-I found some boots I love.

-Ann Patchett has a new book that was released this week. This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage She is one of my favorite authors so any new book she writes is a definite celebration for me!

--I ordered a few pieces from The Trashy Crafter on Etsy.  The owner, Kim, had accidentally sold a piece that I ordered so she sent me a very nice note, letting me know she was going to send me an extra piece just because she made a mistake!  I thought that was VERY nice of her.  So I figured as part of this week's celebration, I'd pay it forward.  If you leave a comment on this post, I will put your name in a drawing to win this Dr. Seuss necklace from The Trashy Crafter.   Kim makes lots of great stuff, but I especially love the necklaces and bracelets from recycled books! (I'll announce the winner next Saturday, November 16.)   And, if you haven't discovered the Trashy Crafter blog, it is quite a treat!